In the linguistic shorthand of Eve-Online some minerals are said to be "rare." The rarer mineral is the scarcer one in market terms: they are more expensive than the less scarce ones (fn1). Yet minerals are much less rare than one might suppose: I know where they are, I know how to extract them, and yes, I can even arrange the logistics. But I don't do it myself. Why?
Minerals in Eve-Onine are scarce for lack of another in-game resource which can be indeed quite rare in some areas:
The structures that players use to manage security in Eve-Online can be substantial.
MMOG experiences in general seem to revolve around metering in-game resources out to the players for an intended (game design) effect. The simplest PvE (Player-versus-Environment) pattern might be:
A.) Kill Z and 0.1% of the time it "drops" loot that is a rare item.
Kill enough of Z and the rare item will eventually show up - the limiting factor is the player's time. This pattern gets extended in PvE by layering on group gating elements, such as:
B.) Limit the number of times/places Z is available. Then players need to organize among themselves to manage distribution of the rare loot among themselves -(queues, sharing, lottery).
Add PvP (Player-versus-Player) then the groups of players might fight over who gets access to the source of that resource (dungeon/monster etc). Thow in bigger Z's, then:
C.) Require groups of players to wrest loot from Z. Groups of players become a logistic resource that needs to be marshalled and maintained and can be scarce at times.
To my view, Eve Online extends the pattern of (C.) insisting that the organization of players and their ability to access regions is the scarce resource. It differs from (C.) in that the ostensible resources sought (minerals) are relatively abundant and would be easily obtainable were it not for other requirements. The Eve-Online variation of the problem becomes:
X.) Do I have enough logistical support ("haulers", tech, ships, etc) to make doing so cost-effective. It also includes organizational overhead: getting enough people to show up at the right place on time.
Y.) Do I have enough player provided security in place to protect my operation to extract that ore.
I have simplified away here two important details. First, the "rare" minerals are not uniformly distributed across the Eve Online universe (see this display). The numbered axis corresponds to the Concord (in-game police) security for a band of regions. The effect of this is to force trade. The second simplification is that (Y.) above refers to areas where players need to provide their own security (< 0.5 on the axis).
Two weeks ago I wrote about how the control of territory and managing its security is a central feature in the game for large player groups called alliances in Eve-Online:
The bread and butter of these alliances is the territory they control: territory forms the first rung of the economic system that makes the game possible (or enjoyable) for its members. From territory comes the minerals to fuel factories to build ships to fight wars.
Alliances reside in 1/3 or so of the 5000 "plantary systems" (e.g. political map) that comprise the Eve Online universe. Their territory covers locations where some of the most valuable mineral ore can be found. In the lingo, alliances live in the "0.0 space." Thus, one narrow view of the alliance system in Eve-Online is as an economic and security arrangement to protect and support mining operations in those areas.
A careful reader of the NBSI thread will have noted that alliances employ (more or less well) multiple layers of defense to protect their territory:
1.) there are those trying to protect the perimeter ("gate camping")
2.) there are those roaming around (or manning scout points) looking for those who slipped through.
3.) there is everyone else, some percentage of which will muster at any moment should an alarm be raised.
An industrial sized mining operation might be composed of a dozen or more players involved in three capacities: mining, hauling, and security. "Hauling" is the movement of minerals from a site to a station that can be located some distance away. Large operations pose a set of vulnerabilities for players: plenty of expensive ships out in the open with few guns.
Within core alliance areas security at a mining site may be limited to NPC guard duty (periodic drop-ins by Non-Player Character aggressors, "rats") that can be easily managed. Mining in volatile regions (e.g. "lo-sec" space - filled with pirates, and contested areas - other disputing alliances) is a trickier business.
One advantage of alliances is that much of the security cost of an operation within its borders is amortized by the whole organization (see 1.-3. above). Without it, the direct cost of security at an operation site can be significant. As a for instance, operations where a beefed mining security extends well beyond the site to a convoy route is not unheard of (to guard against pirates molesting haulers) . Whether directly or indirectly, all those guns have to be paid for. The alliance system helps substantially to defray those expenses by limiting their need.
Yet, I'd guess most of the mining in Eve-Online is retail: a couple of guys with perhaps an "alt" (alternative character) to help out. A battleship with half its gun complement swapped out for mining gear would be adequate against NPCs. If the worry is PvP threats (e.g. pirates, alliances), however, much more would be needed.
While industrial scale mining is much more efficient (lucrative per capita) than retail it requires a good handle on (X.) and (Y.) and is best managed by larger player structures. The alliance system in Eve-Online can thus be seen as a risk mitigation device. As such it exists as a response to the actions of other players.
My, oh my. Without PvP would there ever be a need for an alliance system?
fn1. An overview of the mineral market in EVE Online. Dr.EyjoG | 2007.09.03